Never Let Your Guard Down:
Confidence Tells of the Torso

“And that’s when I walked in.”

You put down your spoon, absentmindedly. You’re absorbed into the conversation. You lean in, waiting for more details.

Our body language says so much. We’ve all seen someone’s shoulders drop at discouraging news. We’ve all leaned away from someone’s unpleasant tone of voice.

In Chapter Four of What Every BODY is Saying, author Joe Navarro introduces us to the Torso. The torso is an excellent indicator of people’s levels of comfort and interest, discomfort, or feeling threatened.

When we’re comfortable, we let our guard down. We expose our torsos towards those we like. We lean into a meaningful conversation or into a quiet moment with a loved one.

Manspreading is an example of comfort and confidence. When a businessperson removes his coat, feeling at home, he is comfortable.

Manspreading displays comfort and confidence by opening the torso to danger. Photo "O Cristo Redentor" by Jorge Láscar, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Manspreading displays comfort and confidence by opening the torso to danger. Photo “O Cristo Redentor” by Jorge Láscar, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

By mirroring someone’s posture helps build rapport between two people by one person being ‘like’ the other person. This is known as mirroring or isopraxism.

When we laugh, we lean into the joke with our friends. Once our endorphin run out, we feel the pain of shaking our internal organs; we lean away from the joke, uncomfortable and looking for relief.

We protect our torso when we feel threatened or uncomfortable. Leaning away from someone, turning our body (partially or fully), or suddenly blocking our torso with our arms or an item (holding a pen, butting a jacket, hugging a notebook) can all be signs of discomfort.

Is she comfortable or uncomfortable right now? Photo "CL Society 218: Crossing arms" by  Francisco Osorio, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Is she comfortable or uncomfortable right now? Photo “CL Society 218: Crossing arms” by
Francisco Osorio, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

People chose their clothing to reflect a certain attitude. The way they present themselves conveys a lot of information. They may dress well, with embellishments such as a flashy tie or sparkling jewelry. They may wear a uniform. Maybe they wear old clothes to fit a certain image or because they’re not well paid. Perhaps they display their awards and accomplishments, including award winners and military officers.

Some people preen their chest and shoulders to look their best. People stand tall when confident. Shoulder slumping indicates low confidence. Hunched shoulders indicate discomfort and self-protection.

When gauging someone’s level of comfort or discomfort, remember to compare to a baseline behavior. Look for sudden changes and multiple tells to gain a more complete understanding.

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